City Arts Fest 2011
The Showbox SODO
Walking into the never-ending cavern that was October‘s Crystal Castles show at the Showbox Sodo, I knew that I was a part of something outside of the realms of modern reality; something primitive and thoroughly futuristic all at once. Everything about the experience seemed to be an oxymoron. From the 19-year-old girls dressed like candy ravers circa-1993 to the frat dudes doing shots of Jäger in the bar, while the Crypts played their dark, thoughtful nightmare grooves, I seemed to have walked into a witches’ coven where half of the attendees were expecting a party instead of a séance. But in fact, the mood of such a concert did land somewhere between these two ends of the spectrum. The music of Crystal Castles is smart and calculating and deeply rooted in the occult, while also appealing to the dance and party crowd, and/or those fans who revel in the collision of both dance and darkness.
Entering the stage with a sly presence, the duo wasted no time beginning with Alice Glass’ signature yelling and jumping at a hyper-momentum, set against a heavy and snail-slow techno groove, controlled by dj mastermind, Ethan Kath. Their dynamic recalls a dancehall linguistic and a touch of The Knife with a White Magic tempo (another spooky, but more instrumental Brooklyn duo). Crystal Castles are definitely Urban- tough (by way of Toronto), yet have an earthy fluidity. Their set at City Art’s Fest was rooted in 90s tone with a futuristic vibration – echoeing up into rafters of a very noisy nothing, calling upon a feeling of primitive urge and uncontrollable movements… Blood curdling drone to a backdrop of heavy rock beat that continually took the forefront and made the droning seem all that much spookier and omnipresent, as it alternated in and out of the vocal spotlight. Three or four songs were filled with a shrieking chant that cut through the encompassing pulse, while the rest struggled with the balance between clear vocals and noise.
Much of the singing and howling that I enjoy so much in the recorded songs, was completely lost in a live setting. I blame this solely on the venue. I’ve only been to the Showbox Sodo three times, but every experience has the same outcome: the vocals are drowned out, the bass and feedback dominate the soundscape, and all of the details of melody and harmony drift upwards and get lost in the utter lack of acoustics in that mammoth building. I understand that this band is on the rise and that they needed a larger venue to accommodate the demand from fans, but nobody -and I mean no decent musical act that I have seen or heard of- has ever sounded good at the Showbox Sodo! It’s funny, because the original Showbox is, hands down, my favorite place to see live music in Seattle and the differences in atmosphere and sound quality between the two locations are so vast that I will continually pass on great bands and lineups simply because they are scheduled at the Sodo establishment. To the credit of Crystal Castles, the energy that they projected was infectious and, even when the voices were inaudible, the crowd could sense the intent and level of enthusiasm in their performance. Alice Glass has a stage presence like no other and, she alone, almost made up in her physicality what was lacking in the vocal and harmonic elements.
At rare moments they sounded just like the albums. Steady, yet erratic. Pulsating, yet spasmodic and random. Bursts of light and jubilation, with equal parts doom and aggressive darkness. Despite the muddled sound, the artists’ message came across and got the whole audience riled up, without a still pair of hips or feet in the building. This tiny lady was a tinker-hellion onstage, straddling the crowd on her knees as they held her up, so that she could continue her yowling out into the madness of fan response. These sneaky spell-casters are creating a new antithesis of disco; almost hardcore rock in a danceable format, but with something else all its own. Dark and unreachable, they create appeal and intrigue with an aura of mystery; giving the listener just enough to grasp and keep the interest by hiding slightly in the shadows, both musically and physically.
All in all, Crystal Castles put on a great spectacle of a show, even in the poor setting and the intense silver strobe lights that threatened to either induce a seizure, or put half of the audience to sleep with its pulsing lull. Fortunately CC’s dancey, droney brand of full-force electro-gloom kept everyone jumping along and deliriously /mysteriously happy.